a story came across our news wires at work this week that punched me in the gut, because it reminded me so much of BUTTER. i found a version of the story here. (you can click the link and read the Associate Press report or settle for my quick summary.)
the short version is that police in Nebraska are investigating the death of a 19 year old who died of a self-inflicted gunshot wound. it's not clear whether it was an accident or a suicide, but what does seem to be clear is that it happened while the young man was in an internet chat room. a friend of his signed in to the chat later to find people talking about the shooting. talking about it - but not reporting it. it was the friend who told police, and officers are now using the dead man's computer to try to find witnesses... and find out why they didn't call police when it happened.
at times, while writing BUTTER, i had to stop and ask myself - Is this believable? Would kids really stand by and let such a tragedy play out before their eyes? And not just stand by but CHEER for it?
and then a story like the one above would cross my desk at work, and i'd be reminded that it's not only possible - it's really happening in our world. and tragically, the reality is often much worse than fiction.
in the article above, for example, the AP reporter mentions a similar case back in 2008, the year before i wrote BUTTER. another 19 year old man, in a video chat room, overdosed on drugs live on the internet. a transcript of the chat later showed some viewers were egging him on. by the time someone called police, he was dead.
i remember that story. i remember it vividly, because one of the unfortunate aspects of my job as a journalist is that i often see uncut, unblurred, uncensored video of crime scenes. those dead bodies we don't put on TV? i see them all. and i saw that young man lay down in his bed after taking those pills. it's an image that stuck with me, and perhaps somewhere in my subconscious, it became the seed of an idea for BUTTER.
stories like that, stories of internet bullies, and stories like the one this week about a 600-pound man who posted a web video with an emotional plea for help... those are the kind of stories i bring home at night - the facts that swirl in the back of my mind when i'm writing fiction.
i often feel helpless as a journalist - objectively reporting stories and hoping those stories reach the right ears, so that this terrible thing that happened today won't happen tomorrow. i am equally helpless as an author, but some part of me hopes a book can do more than a single news story.
instead of just being read today, maybe it will be read tomorrow and the next day and the next.
maybe fiction has the power, in some small way, to change the facts.